You can’t protect an NFL quarterback by hiding him. Sooner or later, he’ll have to throw.

You can’t protect an NFL quarterback by hiding him.


Sooner or later, he’ll have to throw.


The way to help a passer who needs help is to let him help himself.


Let him throw on first down.


Even when that doesn’t work, the quarterback then has two more tries to get it right.


When you wait to third down to throw, it’s one and done if it’s not done right. And it’s harder to do it right on third down, when the defense is sitting on the pass.


Tampa Bay beat Chicago 27-24 in overtime Sunday even though the Bears did almost all of the things they say they have to do to win. They forced four turnovers to Tampa’s two. They outrushed Tampa 158 yards to 47. They even won the time of possession battle by eight minutes.


But Tampa played with less fear, throwing 67 passes.


“I know it’s not a recipe for success in the long run,” Brian Griese said after throwing for a career-high 407 yards, “but it was a necessity for the style of defense that the Bears have.”


Griese kept chucking even after throwing three interceptions. “You can’t be tentative and play quarterback in this league,” he said.


Someone tell that to the Bears, who have been afraid of their own quarterback for most of Lovie Smith’s five years as coach.


Chicago ranked next-to-last in the NFL in average first-down yards (2.7) the first two weeks. That’s because they get off the bus running in place. They ran on 19 of 23 first downs in their opener and 10 of 13 in the first half last week.


Offensive coordinator Ron Turner said the Bears’ first-down play selection “depends on who you are playing and what you want to do. We try to have a pretty good mix on that down. It depends on what their tendencies are. Each week it’s different.”


No, it was different for the Bucs. But it started out the same for the Bears. They ran on nine of 15 first downs in the first half Sunday and only once gained more than 4 yards.


“They were playing the run a lot on first down, putting eight guys up in the box,” Turner said. “We looked at it as the game went on and said we need to start throwing on first down.


“The previous two games we were running quite a bit on first down, so we tried to break that tendency. Again, they had eight and nine guys up there, so we tried to make some plays in the passing game.”


And make plays they did. Kyle Orton completed his last 10 first-down passes, for 111 yards and both his touchdowns.


He finished 13-for-15 for 151 yards on first down, plus had a pair of first-down scrambles for another 16 yards. When the Bears opened with the pass, they wound up picking up the first down 12 out of 16 times. They made it 7 of 16 times when they ran on first down.


Griese’s raw numbers weren’t as impressive: 19-for-30 for 202 yards on first down. But Tampa picked up the first down 23 of 30 times it threw first, and only 2 of 7 times it ran on first down.


Brian Griese is no better than Kyle Orton. The reason the Bucs are 2-1 and the Bears are 1-2 is it took Tampa about 10 minutes to figure out Chicago was sitting on the run, while the Bears needed 2 ½ games to see that.


If the Bears don’t want Kyle Orton to have to throw on third down, they need him to throw on first down.


Matt Trowbridge can be reached at (815) 987-1383 or mtrowbridge@rrstar.com.